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Using sub-forms to create repeatable fields


Forms are everywhere on the web. From a simple sign up form to complicated application forms you’ve seen various forms with varying validation and fields. A very popular way to ask users to input multiple values for similar data is to use the “Add More” type field where the user can add any number of entries. Examples are Educational Qualification, Previous Employment History etc.

Joomla too supported the add more fields natively, by use of the repeatable element. However it had a few limitations

  • The sub fields show up in a popup, and not inline
  • It’s not easy to customise the layout of the popup

We’d tried to overcome these in a recent project by improving the repeatable field, but while we were doing that we realised that Joomla 3.6 has solved this in a much better way! Welcome “sub forms”. This provides a way to use JForm XML inside existing forms, by way of including another XML in lieu of a field in the parent XML. With sub-forms you can -

  • Use the subform field as repeatable also by setting the multiple attribute true
  • Choose from any of the existing layouts for display (i.e table or div as container)
  • Or use your own layout

Let’s move on to an example -

Step 1 - Create a xml file which you want to nest into the subform field. The subform can contain any of the available Joomla field types. Let’s say you want to create a repeatable field for Past Employers. So create the file in components/com_yourcomponent/models/forms/pastemployers.xml with below code in it. 

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
  <field name="start_date" 
         label="Started working" />
  <field name="end_date" 
         label="Left Job" />
  <field name="employer_name"
         label="Employer Name" />
  <field name="employer_name"
         label="Employer Name" />

Step 2 - Create the parent form that needs to load the sub form. For simplicity, I’m leaving out any other fields in the parent form and showing only 1 field which will display the sub form.

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>
  <field name= "experience"
         description= "Past work history"
         type= "subform"
         label= "Employment History"
         min= "1"
         max= "1000"
         required= "true"            
         formsource= "components/com_pip/models/forms/pastemployers.xml"
         multiple= "true"
         buttons= "add,remove"

 The sub form field supports a lot of configuration using atrributes, so let’s see those one by one -

  • type :  This should of course be subform
  • formsource : (mandatory) here you need to give the file path that you want to nest into this field. In our case we need to add the path of xml file that we created. The path is relative to Joomla root
  • multiple : (optional) thf you want a repeatable field set this to true
  • min : (Optional) count of minimum repeating in multiple mode. Default will be 0
  • max : (optional) count of maximum repeating in multiple mode. Default: 1000
  • groupByFieldset : (optional) Decides if the subform fields are grouped by fieldset (true or false). Default: false
  • buttons : (optional) which buttons to show in multiple mode. Default: add,remove,move
  • layout : (optional) the layout name for render the subform inputs.

Step 3 - Load this field as usual in your view’s layout file.

echo $form->getInput(‘experience’);

That’s it ! However watch out for these gotchas that I faced when implementing the sub-form

  • Make sure you are using Joomla 3.6.2+ since there were some issues in the sub form implementation that were fixed only in this version
  • I’ve noticed that the calendar field does not work, it might be a generic issue with other fields that need other JS loaded

Hope you implement sub-forms the next time you need add more instead of writing your own code ! Do let me know if you have more tips and tricks around sub-forms in the comments below. Thanks !

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